Countdown to Paris 2018: Ian Millar and Big Ben's back-to-back transatlantic titles

Ian Millar (left) at 1989 World Cup Final in Tampa
Credit : unknown

Friday 09 February - 15h45 | Ian Clayton

Countdown to Paris 2018: Ian Millar and Big Ben's back-to-back transatlantic titles

This weekend, many of the top Show Jumping horses and riders on the planet are in Hong Kong for the second part of the Longines Masters Indoor Grand Slam series. But in a little over two months, from April 11-15, many of those athletes will be in Paris for the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final, as they face off for one of the most prestigious titles in equestrian sports. In the lead-up to the 2018 Final in the French capital, GrandPrix-Replay is looking back at some of the highlights from previous World Cups. Today, Ian Millar and his transatlantic back-to-back victories in 1988 and 1989.

 - Countdown to Paris 2018: Ian Millar and Big Ben's back-to-back transatlantic titles

Statue of Ian Millar and Big Ben in Perth, Ontario
Credit : McDonald Art

In his sport, 71-year-old Ian Millar is known as Captain Canada. That nickname comes from his extensive achievements, which include an Olympic silver medal in 2008 and a record-breaking 10 Games appearances, as well as dozens of international Grand Prix victories and millions of dollars of prize money.

Also included in the still-active rider's long list of accomplishments are two victories in the World Cup Jumping Final, in 1988 in Gothenburg, Sweden and 1989 in Tampa, Florida, both times with the legendary Belgian Warmblood gelding Big Ben, originally named ‘Winston.’

Millar and Big Ben had already finished 2nd in 1986 and tied for fifth in 1987 in the World Cup, and their victory in 1988 at the Scandinavium would give North America 9 out of 10 titles over the first decade of the competition, after Hugo Simon’s inaugural win.

In Sweden that year, designer Alan Oliver's courses proved to be a challenge for the riders, as Millar himself observed: “In the three Legs, he tested just about everything you could test of horse and rider.” Still, against strong competition from the likes of reigning European champions Pierre Durand and Jappeloup de Luze and John Whitaker with Next Milton, the pair were able to prevail – even going clear in their final round when they had a fence in hand over their closest rivals. The final result:

1. Ian Millar and Big Ben, 4 penalties;
2. Pierre Durand and Jappeloup de Luze, 8.5 and
3. Philippe Le Jeune with Nistria, 12.5

The following year, as per the original vision of organizers, the competition shifted across the Atlantic to Tampa, Florida, a place Millar would grow to know very well over the years as his winter base. And in the Sunshine State, the the Canuck pair would do it again, this time finishing with 0 penalties, ahead of John Whitaker and Next Milton with 10.753 and the United States' George Lindeman on Jupiter (14.5).

As the New York Times reported, in Tampa – in front a sellout crowd of 8,500 including Princess Anne of Britain, then-president of the International Equestrian Federation  Millar became the first rider to defend the World Cup successfully. But the 'horseman’s horseman' was quick to single out his exceptional partner. "In this sport it really is never over until it's over, because we never know what's in the minds of our four-legged friends," he said. "But Big Ben's the hero. All I did was escort him around the course."

Further reading...